Over the past few years, AI-powered digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant have really taken off. You can access them from your phone or a dedicated speaker in your house and ask them pretty much anything you want. The technology isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to help play your music, set timers and reminders and give you answers to things that you’re too lazy to look up for yourself.
As you might expect, Google announced a handful of new features for its Assistant at Google I/O this week. Google has been working to integrate Google Duplex within Google Assistant which allows the service to have a human-like sound while also navigating the ins-and-outs of a conversation in real time.
This enables Google Assistant to make reservations for you at a restaurant or appointments at a doctor or any business that might not have an online booking service by placing a phone call for you in the background. While I was watching this Google I/O live stream of this demonstration I was awestruck. I was expecting Google Assistant to have the same voice inflections I’ve become accustomed to in my Google Home, but that wasn’t the case. The voice was indistinguishable from a human voice with well-timed pauses and a perfectly-placed “umm” and “mm-hmm”. There was nothing robotic about it, especially the way that Google Assistant navigated the conversation, asking for an appointment at a specific time or switching things up and asking how long of a wait it would be for a table when the restaurant employee stated they didn’t accept reservations for groups of 4. I don’t know if the businesses on the other line suspected that they were talking to an AI-powered digital assistant, but I know it could have fooled me.
Google Assistant: Hi, I’d like to make a reserve a table for Wednesday, the 7th.
Restaurant: For 7 people?
Google Assistant: Umm, it’s for four people
Restaurant: Four people, When, Today? Tonight?
Google Assistant: Umm, next Wednesday, at 6 pm.
Restaurant: Actually, we reserve for upwards of five people. For four people, they can come.
Google Assistant: How long is the wait usually to be seated?
Restaurant: For when? Tomorrow? Or weekend?
Google Assistant: For next Wednesday, ah, the 7th.
Restaurant: Oh, no, it’s not too busy. You can come for four people, okay?
Google Assistant: Oh, I gotcha, thanks.
Restaurant: Yep. Bye-bye.
As cool Google Assistant’s new calling feature is, you’ll likely never use it – at least not for a very long time. Like many of you, I trust Google with my email, finding businesses and directions, suggesting YouTube videos I’m interested in and much more, but I often have to do a lot of the work myself since the information suggested by Google isn’t always complete or the result I’m really looking for is number two or three on the list. Blindly ask Google Assistant to make an appointment could easily lead to a reservation at the wrong restaurant on the wrong side of town or even another city. I don’t trust Google enough to hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button for a simple Google search, so why would I do the same with something as important as a reservation or appointment?
Then there’s the fact that I still enjoy human interaction (in moderation). I don’t mind picking up the phone and talking to a person, especially when the reason for the call is something important that affects me and others. But most importantly, reservations or appointments require some additional context. You may want to let the restaurant know that you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary. In the case of a doctors appointment, they typically need a lot of information that Google Assistant doesn’t know about you or your family. Honestly, I’d like to hear that conversation between Google Assistant and the doctor’s office and hear how it navigates questions about your health and the reason for the appointment.
Now, I’m not saying that Google is wasting its time with this new feature. I’m a big fan of Google Assistant and use it on a daily basis. I’ll likely try it a few times, but I’ll likely be placing a followup call of my own to make sure that Google Assistant got the details right. But this feature is likely best suited for those who already use it to book movie tickets with Fandango, shop with Google Express or order flowers with 1-800-Flowers. Personally, I’ve never done any of those and don’t know anyone who has.
What’s your take on Google Assistant’s new calling feature? Do you trust Google enough to let it talk to others on your behalf.